2014 NFL Free Agency: Ranking Each Position by Average Contract Worth so Far
The first week of NFL free agency began quickly as usual, then slowed toward the weekend after top-tier players had all signed with new teams. We’re ranking positions by average contract worth here, and the results should in no way surprise anyone.
Teams spent just more than $1 billion on Day 1, marking the first time in free-agency history that has happened, according to Peter King.
It was money well-spent for the most part. Cornerback Aqib Talib signed the richest free-agent contract during the first week, a six-year, $57 million deal with the Denver Broncos that includes $26 million in guaranteed money. He will make $7.9 million in 2014.
The Broncos handed out by far the most money per player during Week 1 of free agency, totaling $124.5 million for four players—or $31.1 million per player. Joining Talib on defense is defensive end DeMarcus Ware (three years, $30 million) and strong safety T.J. Ward (four years, $22.5 million), as well as wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (three years, $15 million).
Team president John Elway and Co. clearly learned a lesson from their 43-8 Super Bowl embarrassment, and that is while offense may get you there, defense wins championships.
Here is where each position ranks in average contract worth after a week of free agency.
Note: With the continued signing of players, positional contract averages are fluid. These averages are as of Tuesday night, but barring a big contract announcement, rankings are pretty much set.
15. Outside Linebacker
Average Contract: Two years, $3.6 million; $1.2 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Dekoda Watson, Jaguars (three years, $6.25 million; $1.5 million guaranteed)
The market for 3-4 rush linebackers was virtually nonexistent this free-agent season. LaMarr Woodley and Calvin Pace would have been top free agents two or three years ago, but at this stage, they are both long in the tooth (it’s hard to believe Woodley will be 30 years old midway through the 2014 season).
Plus, Woodley confirmed via Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune that he will play defensive end in Oakland’s 4-3 front, likely opposite Justin Tuck.
LaMarr Woodley says he'll be a 4-3 end with the Raiders. No different than 3-4 OLB, he says, except his had will be in dirt.— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) March 13, 2014
That leaves the little-known Watson as the highest-paid outside linebacker on the market so far. A 4-3 “Sam” linebacker, Watson played in 60 games over four seasons with the Bucs, starting just six and tallying 81 total tackles, three sacks and one interception.
Other signees include Pace (Jets), Matt Shaughnessy (Cardinals) and Keith Rivers (Bills).
Average Contract: Two years, $3.7 million; $532,500 guaranteed
Top Contract: Josh McCown, Buccaneers (two years, $10 million; no guaranteed money)
Quarterbacks sit near the bottom of the free agency totem pole this season. When a guy like McCown gets the richest deal at the position, it’s clear the class is weak to begin with.
McCown is Tampa Bay’s starter as of now, according to head coach Lovie Smith (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk). With the possibility that Tampa takes a quarterback high in the draft—it owns the seventh overall pick—McCown’s starter role should be considered fluid. But for now, the 34-year-old, 12-year veteran is penciled into the first-team huddle.
Other signees include Charlie Whitehurst (Titans), Kellen Clemens (Chargers) and Browns 2012 first-round pick Brandon Weeden (Cowboys).
13. Tight End
Average Contract: Two years, $5.1 million; $2 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (four years, $16 million; $8 million guaranteed)
There is still a chance the tight ends get a big boost from the likes of Jimmy Graham, but a team will have to fork over two first-round picks to sign him. Though he is a great player, a tight end is simply not worth that—no matter the return in investment.
Detroit re-signed Pettigrew after the five-year veteran briefly tested the market. The Jets reportedly were interested in signing him, but he opted to stay with the team that drafted him—where the winter home games are within the friendly confines of a dome and where the quarterback situation is set for the next decade.
Other signees include Garrett Graham (Texans), Jim Dray (Browns) and Brandon Myers (Buccaneers).
12. Running Back
Average Contract: 2.5 years, $5.4 million; $1.8 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Toby Gerhart, Jaguars (four years, $10.5 million; $4.5 million guaranteed)
Gerhart and Donald Brown (Chargers) signed nearly identical contracts this offseason. The top contract goes to Gerhart because his contract includes a half million more in guaranteed money than Brown’s does.
While Gerhart should start in 2014, Brown could split carries with Ryan Mathews. San Diego is looking to the future in signing Brown, though, because Mathews has a club option for 2015 worth just more than $3.2 million. The team would save about $1.6 million in cap space by cutting him and, given his injury history, could decide to part ways with the former first-round pick.
Other signees include Rashad Jennings (Giants), Ben Tate (Browns) and Anthony Dixon (Buffalo).
Average Contract: 2.5 years, $6.2 million; $855,000 guaranteed
Top Contract: Evan Dietrich-Smith, Buccaneers (four years, $14.25 million; $7.25 million guaranteed)
Perhaps the top available center, Dietrich-Smith left the Packers for greener, less frozen pastures when he signed with Tampa. He allowed the second-most sacks (five) among centers, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but he was among the highest-rated and was paid for it.
His average salary is $1 million more than the second-highest-paid center in free agency, the Giants’ J.D. Walton.
Other signees include Phil Costa (Colts) and Ted Larsen (Cardinals).
Average Contract: 2.5 years, $6.6 million; $1.7 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Dan Carpenter, Bills (four years, $9.95 million; $2.15 million guaranteed)
Lumping these two together makes sense because so few have signed free-agent contracts this offseason—only one punter (Donnie Jones, Eagles). Carpenter’s contract is a bit puzzling when you consider he struggled to earn a roster spot last offseason.
He was in Arizona to compete with Jay Feely, but that lasted all of a week before he was cut. He signed with the Bills and had a great year kicking field goals, connecting on 33-of-36 (91.7 percent), including 4-of-6 from 50-plus yards.
Carpenter was average in kicking off, however, ranking below average with 59 percent of his kicks being returned and an average depth of kick of 66 yards (one yard deep in the end zone), according to PFF.
Other signees include Steven Hauschka (Seahawks) and Josh Brown (Giants). No punter or kicker has changed teams this offseason.
9. Inside Linebacker
Average Contract: Two years, $7.4 million; $2.2 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Karlos Dansby, Browns (four years, $24 million; $12 million guaranteed)
The top six contracts in terms of total potential value are owned by players with an average age of 29 years and four months. That includes Jon Beason, who, despite being 29, may as well be 36 with his injury history. He was quickly becoming one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL before undergoing surgery three times in 17 months between the 2011 and 2012 seasons for various injuries.
Dansby enjoyed probably his best season in 2013 with the Cardinals, and he used that to leverage a bigger contract in free agency. The 32-year-old said he was “surprised” by Cleveland’s offer, according to Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com.
It definitely surprised me, I wasn’t expecting that. I was called supernaturally, man. It was something I can’t explain. It was like, 'It’s time to go.' […]
[…] They [the Cardinals] showed me what they valued me at and I was like ‘OK, that’s cool.’ But when you get called, you’ve got to drop everything and roll.
Other signees include Daryl Smith (Ravens), Wesley Woodyard (Titans) and Brandon Spikes (Bills).
Average Contract: 2.3 years, $11.7 million; $5.3 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Aqib Talib, Broncos (six years, $57 million; $26 million guaranteed)
It was initially thought ridiculous that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would refuse a six-year, $54 million contract offer from the Broncos. But, as Mike Klis of The Denver Post reported late last week, not all $54 million deals are what they seem.
So, the Broncos moved on and signed Talib to a six-year deal worth even more money—the richest contract of free agency so far. Cromartie signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Giants that will give him $13.98 million in guaranteed money.
Other signees include Vontae Davis (Colts), Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers) and the pairing of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (Patriots).
7. Offensive Guard
Average Contract: 3.5 years, $11.9 million; $4.8 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Rodger Saffold, Rams (five years, $31.3 million; $15 million guaranteed)
The Saffold-to-Raiders deal lasted all of two days, until he failed a physical that voided the would-be contract. He returned to St. Louis, where he signed a lucrative deal to play guard for head coach Jeff Fisher, per Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com.
He made the switch last year, a difficult switch. He was very, very productive inside. Our plan is to play him at guard as we continue to fill the pieces around him.
With two of the top 13 picks in this year's draft, the Rams could realistically get the receiver everyone feels is the best in the class, Sammy Watkins, as well as a top tackle (among other solid options). That would be a great way to start to "fill the pieces around" Saffold.
Other signees include Zane Beadles (Jaguars) and Jon Asamoah (Falcons).
6. Defensive Tackle
Average Contract: Three years, $12million; $4.6 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Paul Soliai, Falcons (five years, $32 million; $11 million guaranteed)
The final details of Henry Melton’s four-year deal with the Cowboys were not readily available at the time of article completion. Therefore, new Falcons interior terror Soliai is the top dog of the position.
At 30, Soliai likely enters the final contract of his career. The Falcons won’t save any money by cutting him until 2016, when they can shave $2.7 million of their cap number by ditching Soliai, who will be 32 then. All that is purely hypothetical, of course.
Other signees include Linval Joseph (Vikings), Jason Hatcher (Redskins) and Earl Mitchell (Dolphins).
5. Wide Receiver
Average Contract: 2.2 years, $13 million; $5.2 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Eric Decker, Jets (five years, $36.25 million; $15 million guaranteed)
The Jets won’t pay aging wideout Santonio Holmes, but they did fork over a truckload to former Broncos receiver Decker. Decker joins a receiving corps in need of a No. 1 guy, but it is unclear whether he’s that guy. The only thing that is clear is that New York will pay him as though he were.
Another notable receiver who left town is Golden Tate. He takes his freshly minted Super Bowl ring with him to Detroit, where he undoubtedly will show it off to Calvin Johnson in hopes of sparking a run of their own. Tate signed a five-year, $31 million deal that has $13.25 million guaranteed.
Other signees include Andre Roberts (Redskins), Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos) and Steve Smith (Ravens).
Average Contract: Three years, $13.3 million; $5.8 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Jairus Byrd, Saints (six years, $54 million; $26.3 million guaranteed)
The Broncos signed Talib to the richest contract so far, but safety Jairus Byrd is second with his $54 million deal with New Orleans (you’ll see a theme with the remaining positions). Members of the secondary are being paid this offseason, and that especially goes for safeties.
With the passing game becoming more important in today’s NFL, good defensive backs are at a premium; when you find one, you’d best lock him up long term. Otherwise, you’ll lose him just like the Bills lost Byrd.
The Saints are the beneficiaries of Buffalo’s blunder, and their defense will be set on the back end for a long time—they also have second-year strong safety and former first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro. The tandem should already be considered among the best in the NFL, despite not having yet played a single snap together.
Other signees include Donte Whitner (49ers), T.J. Ward (Broncos) and Mike Mitchell (Steelers).
3. Defensive End
Average Contract: Three years, $15.8 million; $6 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Michael Johnson, Buccaneers (five years, $43.75 million; $16 million guaranteed)
As mentioned in the outside linebackers section, LaMarr Woodley will play defensive end in Oakland and therefore his contract is included here. He’s not the highest-paid defensive end, however. That honor goes to former Bengal Johnson.
After a solid 2012 season in which he recorded 11.5 sacks, Johnson tallied only 3.5 last season. In a contract year, that could have been disastrous. But the Bucs had other plans. They saw that he generated a bunch of pressure—61 total pressures, per PFF—and made him a very rich man.
DeMarcus Ware was a cap casualty of the Cowboys, and as mentioned at the outset, he is part of a trio of top-notch defenders hoping to put Denver over the top. His three-year deal pays him the most per season, at an even $10 million maximum.
Other signees include Lamarr Houston (Bears), Julius Peppers (Packers) and Tyson Jackson (Falcons).
2. Right Tackle
Average Contract: 4.4 years, $21.1 million; $8.3 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Austin Howard, Raiders (five years, $30 million; $11.8 million guaranteed)
With all but two positions covered and the bookends left to discuss, it’s clear what teams want this offseason: protection for quarterbacks. Austin Howard ranked 29th among offensive tackles last season (my own statistic, gathered using PFF numbers), allowing a pressure on 6.80 percent of pass-blocking snaps in his final season with the Jets.
Saints right tackle Zach Strief also brought home the bacon, signing a five-year, $20.5 million deal to stay in New Orleans after briefly testing the market. He ranked ninth in 2013, allowing pressure on 5.10 percent of snaps. Drew Brees can sleep easy knowing he’s got one of the best pass-blocking offensive linemen back to protect him for what should be the remainder of his career.
Other signees include Michael Oher (Titans), Breno Giacomini (Jets) and Geoff Schwartz (Giants).
1. Left Tackle
Average Contract: Five years, $37.4 million; $17.4 million guaranteed
Top Contract: Branden Albert, Dolphins (five years, $47 million; $26 million guaranteed)
It’s no surprise that blindside blockers are getting the fattest contracts this offseason. It helps that the four guys signed are all great players and could all be considered franchise left tackles.
Albert, who lives in South Florida during the offseason, will play closer to home with the Dolphins. He is one of the better left tackles in the league, and his payday shows it. Miami traded bullied left tackle Jonathan Martin to the 49ers for a conditional seventh-round pick, paving the way for Albert’s big move.
Perhaps under the radar, the Bucs added the left tackle of their future in Anthony Collins. A spot starter in Cincinnati, Collins was the top-ranked tackle last season, allowing pressure on just 3.79 percent of snaps (12 pressures on 317 pass-blocking snaps). He hasn’t allowed a sack since the 2009 season—42 straight games.
The other signees are Jared Veldheer (Cardinals) and Eugene Monroe (Ravens).
All contract details provided by Spotrac.com